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Contemporary Music

For now, all the contemporary pieces in our repertoire are composed by Artistic Director Lynn Gumert. Some of these pieces were composed for the core group, while others were composed for collaborative performances with other ensembles. If you are a composer and are interested in writing a piece for us, please contact me. Likewise, if you are a member of an ensemble that would like to work collaboratively with us on a new piece, please contact me.


Desert Song

This contemporary composition draws on the Arab scale hijaz, the same scale used in many Sephardic songs, although as the piece moves towards its climax it becomes increasingly dissonant and chromatic. Rhythmically it is based on an additive rhythm, 2+2+3+3. The piece falls into three sections. The first and third sections incorporate a long-breathed and melismatic melody that draws heavily on Sephardic scales. The highly dissonant and angular middle section has a more contemporary flavor, expressing the emotional nature of the text, which is by the composer.

D'Estas Aves

Florencia del Pinar is the first known Spanish woman poet. Little is known about her life, but some of her poems are published with the honorific “Dama,” (“Lady”), which suggests that she was from the upper class. I found this poem particularly compelling because of the image of the captive bird with which she identifies, knowing that historically women’s lives were very restricted. Another level of meaning in the poem is that the particular bird referred to is the partridge, which during this time period was an archetype of female sexuality because female partridges were known to be easily impregnated. This adds another layer of meaning to the poem’s imagery of captivity, or suppression.

 The piece has two themes; the first one is a long-breathed, wide-ranging, and often melismatic melody that suggests flight. The second theme is strongly rhythmic and highly dissonant, and expresses the sorrow of which she speaks. The rhythm used in the second theme is characteristic of Latin American music. Many of the scales and melodic gestures draw from a typical Sephardic scale that includes a minor second-augmented second.


This piece draws on texts about immigration, exile, and displacement, taken from three different sources. The first text, from 16th century Nahuatl poetry written shortly after the Spanish Conquest, is about the desolation of war and defeat. The second text, from contemporary Mexican Sephardic writer Homero Aridjis, is about Jewish memories of exile. The third text, from Rosalía de Castro, an 18th century Galician poet, is about the emptiness of lands—and hearts—left behind by those who must immigrate to find work. Musically, the piece draws on rhythmic notations found in a 15th century Nahuatl Codex, Celtic influences from Galicia (particularly the gaita, or Galician bagpipe), Arabic scales associated with Sephardic music, and on contemporary harmonies and forms. The multi-lingual text combines perspectives from Spain, the New World, and from the Sephardim and brings these issues into the present. The placement of the three groups of recorders at different points is reminiscent of the blowing of the conch shells to the four cardinal points before a Nahuatl religious ceremony. The three poems are presented first separately, each with its own melodic and rhythmic character. In the closing section of the piece, they are layered onto each other, weaving together both the texts and the various melodic and rhythmic threads into single question: Will the day return?

Hago de lo flaco fuerte

 This piece is also based on a poem by Florencia del Pinar (see D'estas aves above). I found this poem compelling because of the imagery of strength coming out of weakness, particularly knowing how restricted women’s lives were at the time. This piece has three sections; the third is a variation of the first. The second section is more subdued, and uses only the strings and a pair of voices. It is written as a triple-chorus piece, using a vocal quartet and two mixed recorder-string choruses arranged spatially to evoke the polychoral works of the Spanish cathedrals. The recorders answer each other in a way that is reminiscent of Andean panpipe music. This texture is combined with melodic scales drawn from Sephardic music traditions and a traditional Tlaxcalan (Mexican) rhythm. These multicultural influences are fused by a 21st century sensibility to the text.

La Niña Guerrera

This composition draws its text from a popular 15th-century Spanish-Sephardic romance celebrating the intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness of a woman warrior. The melody draws on typical Sephardic melodic and rhythmic patterns but combines them with a modern harmonic sense to reveal elements that are not only cross-cultural but also cross historical periods. The Pommerian Early Music Guild originally commissioned the piece; it was later re-composed to fit Zorzal's instrumentation.

Quemar las naves

This piece is also based on a poem by Homero Aridjis (see above). It focuses on the choice of immigrants who, regardless of the reason they have left their homeland, decide to turn their back on the past in order to forge a new life in their new home. It draws on Sephardic scales and on Spanish and Latin American seisquialtera (changing between a sense of three beats per bar and a sense of two beats per bar by regrouping the six underlying pulses in each measure) as well as on contemporary harmonic progressions.

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